Students Say Exam Taught Sexism Instead of English
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2016-12-26 10:45:59

A female college student is asking her university to apologize for an English exam that she says used sexist reading materials.

“Luna,” a second-year university student at Tianjin Chengjian University who spoke to Sixth Tone on condition of anonymity, said that she sat the exam on Dec. 20 and felt offended by one of the reading comprehension texts: an article by dating coach Nicole Gayle titled “Why a Man Will Marry You.”

Originally posted on website EzineArticles.com in 2009, Gayle’s article instructs women in the art of snaring a marriage proposal by being an ideal partner, not a “waiter girlfriend” who gives her boyfriend everything he wants without long-term commitment. The exam questions asked students to select the best answer to reflect the author’s contention.

“It’s forcing women to change themselves to fit the men’s ideal type and [coaching women in] how to marry a man by providing ‘an easy relationship’ in which the man does nothing,” wrote Luna on microblog platform Weibo. Her post on Wednesday was reposted by a number of accounts in Tianjin focused on education and student life.

“I would feel disgusted if I were one of the students,” one Weibo user commented. “Over and over, women suffer the world’s hostility, even during a reading comprehension exam.”

According to screenshots provided by Luna, a teacher named Dong Ming told her via messaging app WeChat that the article was chosen as an exam text because its content “related to relationships between men and women” and “campus life.” Dong added that the exam writer, who was identified only by her surname Wei, felt the article was appropriate because its language and vocabulary matched the students’ English level.

“It’s the article’s opinion,” Dong wrote in the screenshot. “It doesn’t mean that the exam writers agree with that opinion.”

Luna and her schoolmates were not persuaded by their teacher’s reasoning, given the abundance of available texts that could have been used instead. In addition to its representation of relationships, the English article contains several grammatical mistakes. But Luna refused to answer Sixth Tone’s further questions about the exam. “I promised not to comment on this issue any more,” she said. Sixth Tone was unable to reach the university for comment and no contact details for either Dong or Wei could be found.

According to News 117, a digital media outlet produced by the Tianjin Daily, the students asked the university to issue a public statement admitting that the reading material was inappropriate and to commit to not using similar texts in the future. 

A university public relations director surnamed Yang told News 117 that the reading material came from a question bank the school had purchased. “It conforms to the university’s process, wherein the subject teacher chooses a topic [from the question bank], and the college approves,” he said. But he did promise that the university would check exam questions more carefully in the future.

“They are not worthy of being teachers,” Lu Pin, director of Beijing-based nongovernmental organization Feminist Voices, told Sixth Tone. She feels that the university’s response has been lacking due to the administration’s ignorance of gender-discrimination issues.

Lu believes that Chinese universities need more democratic governance processes. “They are too arrogant to admit their mistakes,” she said.

In June, a sex education textbook used in senior middle schools came under fire for referring to girls who had sex before marriage as “degenerates.” The publishing house said it would review the textbook but has not yet issued any apologies or revisions. In the same month, a 21-year-old lesbian student sued the Ministry of Education over homophobic content in university textbooks.

In October, a new textbook aimed at providing primary school boys with models of masculinity was criticized for reinforcing gender stereotypes.

(Header image: A female student completes the listening portion of an English test at Shenyang Agricultural University, Liaoning province, Dec. 20, 2014. Liu Xinyang/VCG)